Mi Tierra Cafe, San Antonio, Texas

Currently I’m reading Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food by Jeffrey M. Pilcher. It debunks a lot of misconceptions and myths about what is ‘authentic’ Mexican food by showing the changes in Mexican cuisine through history and its regional variation. Le Continental feels that the word ‘authentic’ is overused, often misused, and almost always given too much importance when it comes to cuisine. Basically, I think you’re better off completely ignoring the word and just eating what you like, not what people say you should like. An ‘authentic’ Rembrandt is one thing, an ‘authentic’ taco is quite another (and, in fact, meaningless).

 

original_mexican_restaurant_san_antonio

 

Although there were a few Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and San Antonio in the 19th century, the spread of Mexican restaurants in America dates back to the turn of the century when Otis M. Farnsworth opened the Original Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio. It was a fancy place, where men had to wear jackets, and waiters in white jackets served enchiladas, chile rellenos, tamales, chili, rice, and beans on individual fine china plates, not as ‘combination plates’. Soon, copycat “Original’ Mexican restaurants were popping up in Texas. Mexican food in what is now Texas has slowly evolved its own style since it was part of Spain in the 18th century. Early dishes in this area include chili con carne, popular since the mid-19th century, grilled beef steak (carne asada and barbacoa), and wheat flour tortillas, to name a few items. More recently, Tex-Mex has added the puffy taco (a filled deep-fried masa shell, c.1940s), nachos (1940s), and fajitas (1960s).

 

felix-mexican-restaurant

 

Felix Tijerina was born near Monterrey, Mexico, and moved to Houston as an adult to work at the Original Mexican Restaurant there. In 1929 he opened his own place, the Mexican Inn, and eventually he operated a chain of Felix Mexican Restaurants in Texas, that served Americanized Mexican food such as “spaghetti con chile”, tacos, and cheese enchiladas.

 

casa-la-golondrina-2

 

In 1930 Consuelo Castillo de Bonzo, Mexico-born but raised in California, opened Casa La Golondrina on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, promoting it as a “Mexican restaurant” (El Cholo in Los Angeles dates back to 1927, but it offered “Spanish food” in those days). By the 1940s the restaurant was serving ‘combination plates’ of dishes from Castilla’s mother’s original recipes. It’s still open, by the way, and still operated by the de Bonzo family.

 

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Back east, Juvencio Maldonado, from the Yucatán, and his wife Paz, from Mérida, opened a restaurant called Xóchitl (flower) in 1938 on West 46th Street in New York City. Tortillas were made fresh, and exotic dishes such as mole, chilaquiles, and cactus salad were served, as well as hard shell tacos, enchiladas, and tostadas. He patented the first mechanical taco fryer in 1950 so his chefs didn’t have to fry every shell by hand (beating Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, by a few years, who developed his own fryer because he didn’t know about Maldonado’s) and he even sold the pre-made shells to consumers.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Back in San Antonio, Pete and Cruz Cortez opened a small café in the Mercado (the historic market square) in 1941. Today it is still owned by the Cortez family, and it’s now a huge place, with a bar, bakery, and restaurant, which is open 24-hours a day.

 

statue near entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

statue near entrance – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Upon entering the restaurant there is the panaderia, open since 1957, with a long display case of baked goods for sale. On the right is the entrance to the Mariachi Bar, which was built from oak in 1989. Strolling musicians are a constant presence at Mi Tierra, adding to the festivity. It is customary to pay $5 to a musician after each song performed.

 

panaderia - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

panaderia – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Beyond the panaderia are multiple dining rooms, all brightly lit and decorated colorfully.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The menu is large, with all the typical Mexican entrees, Tex-Mex favorites, breakfast served 24-hours/day, and specialties such as chile rellenos, beef ribs, carnitas, cabrito (goat), the El Rancho Special (simmered beef or pork in sauce), steaks, and chicken mole. A great appetizer is the queso flameado, melted jack cheese topped with housemade sausage.

 

mural room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

mural room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Make sure you look in the mural banquet room. The walls are covered with a mural of Latino leaders and celebrities called “The American Dream”, there’s a shrine to Selena, and a portrait of President Clinton jogging while wearing a Mi Tierra t-shirt!

 

 

 

 

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

 

Mi Tierra Cafe
800 Dolorosa #204, San Antonio, TX 78207
210-255-3955
Open daily 24-hours

 

Le Chalet Basque, San Rafael, California

A quick post today because I have to pack for a trip to Austin and San Antonio!

Recently a friend suggested we meet for dinner at Le Chalet Basque in San Rafael. I had no idea this restaurant existed (or it was so long ago when I visited that I forgot)! I’m a big fan of western U.S. style Basque restaurants (and Picon punch) and I work in San Rafael, so I have a new favorite local spot!

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Hidden away between the Marin Civic Center and China Camp State Park, Le Chalet Basque opened in 1962 and is now owned by Roger Minhondo from Irissary, France, who was chef at the restaurant in the 1970s and previously owned The Normandy and Guernica restaurants in Marin. The menu includes many beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, and veal dishes, and French and Spanish Basque specialties such as Rabbit Chasseur, Tripes a La Mode, Sweet Breads Financiere, Lamb Shank with Beans, and Frogs Legs. You will even find some Italian dishes if you’re in the mood for that. Dinners come with homemade soup or salad and for a little extra you can get a family style dinner that includes pâté and delicious rice pudding or ice cream.

 

Sirloin of Lamb Bordelaise - photo by Dean Curtis

Sirloin of Lamb Bordelaise – photo by Dean Curtis

 

There’s a full bar with vintage bar stools, lots of outdoor seating on a lovely patio, and the classically simple dining rooms in white and burgundy linens with mid-century stained wood, open-beamed ceilings and many windows throughout.

 

Le Chalet Basque
405 N San Pedro Rd, San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-1070
Open Tue-Fri 11:30am-10:30pm, lunch served 11:30-2:00, dinner 5:00-9:00pm
Sat-Sun 4:00pm-10:30pm, dinner 4:00-9:00pm

 

Postcard Panorama

Image

Trader Vic's Oakland“The Deck” overlooking the bar, Trader Vic’s, Oakland – from The Jab’s collection

This location, the first Trader Vic’s, closed in 1972 – more info

Mesón de Cándido, Segovia, Spain

The old town of Segovia in Spain is a short train ride from Madrid and a town everyone should visit on a day trip or, even better, an overnight from Spain’s capital. It’s a beautiful city spectacularly set on a hill surrounded by the old city wall, with a fairy-tale alcázar (palace) on one end (where Isabella I was crowned Queen of Castile and León), a gorgeous 16th century gothic cathedral in the middle, and a jaw-dropping 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct at the other end, built from 25,000 granite blocks without mortar or reinforcing. In 1985 the entire old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Located next to the aqueduct on the Plaza del Azoguejo, Mesón de Cándido’s history as an inn (restaurants are often called inns in Spain) dates back to 1786. In 1931, Cándido López, a cook in Segovia since he was a child, purchased the inn, then called Mesón de Azoguejo. The restaurant, renamed Mesón de Cándido, quickly became famous for the Segovian specialty roasted suckling pig (cochinillo asado), among other dishes. In the photo above the original inn is on the right, with the words painted on the front: Mesón (inn), Casa Candido (Candido’s house), and Horno de Asar (broiler for roasting meats). In Segovia and the surrounding area the suckling pig must follow certain criteria to be of high quality and be roasted correctly until the skin is crisp so that when presented at the table the meat can be “carved” with the edge of a plate, as is the tradition started and made famous at Mesón de Cándido.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

In 1941 the inn was enlarged and remodeled into what it looks like today, with several dining rooms filled with paintings and photographs, brass cookware, pottery, bric-à-brac, and murals portraying Segovian scenes. Over the years many famous persons, including royalty, politicians, and celebrities have visited the restaurant.

 

L to R: Cándido López, Alberto Cándido, and his son Cándido - photo by

L to R: Cándido López, Alberto Cándido and his son – photo by Mesón de Cándido web site

 

Cándido López’s son, Alberto Cándido, who holds the title Head Innkeeper of Castile, now runs the restaurant with his son, continuing the family traditions. The family’s pride in the restaurant shows in the gracious service I received from señor Cándido and his staff and in the excellent food I was served.

 

Hombres Illustres (illustrius men) dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

Hombres Illustres (illustrious men) dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

On my visit last year I took the high-speed train from Madrid, arriving in Segovia in about 30 minutes. From the train station outside of town you can take an inexpensive bus to the old town, or a taxi, which I did so I could check in to my hotel directly. I made reservations for lunch, asking for a table with a view of the aqueduct, and the above photo is the viewpoint I had from my table. Below is the aqueduct visible through the window.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

As I was planning on having roast suckling pig for dinner that night I had a “light” lunch of a salad with tuna (a very fresh shredded tuna, not canned tuna like you would expect to be served in many restaurants in the U.S.) and a Castilian specialty, perdiz estofada (partridge stew), with some wine from Ribera del Duero. Other local specialties on the menu include sopa Castellana (Castilian garlic soup), Sepulveda-style roasted baby lamb, judiones de la Granja con oreja de cerdo (stew with white beans from La Granja, pigs ears and trotters), wild boar with apple, and their famous suckling pig. Save room for the special Segovian layer cake, ponche segoviano.

 

partridge stew - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

partridge stew – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

 

Embajadores dining room with 1941 murals - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

Embajadores dining room with 1941 murals – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

 

The Jab with Alberto Cándido - photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

The Jab with Alberto Candido – photo by Dean Curtis, 2014

 

Mesón de Cándido
Plaza Azoguejo, 5, 40001 Segovia, Spain
Phone: +34 921 42 59 11
Open daily for lunch, 1:00pm – 4:30pm, and dinner, 8:00pm – 11:00pm

Alfred’s, San Francisco, California

For years when someone asked me what is my favorite steakhouse in San Francisco I’ve answered “Alfred’s”. There is no better combination of vintage atmosphere, a classic steakhouse menu of dry-aged steaks with traditional sides, and great service, all at reasonable prices. When I want to splurge on the best steak in the city I’ll go to Harris’ (look for it in a future post), but Alfred fills the bill for a great steakhouse experience without breaking the bank.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Alfred’s was opened in on Vallejo Street in 1928 by Alfredo Bacchini from Cattolica, Italy, who had worked his way up from a busboy to opening his own restaurant at 27 years old. He moved the restaurant to Broadway Street a year later, where it remained for seven decades, though it was moved a bit in 1952 for construction of the Broadway tunnel. Click on the following photo of Broadway looking west to see an enlarged view and see if you can spot Alfred’s next to the tunnel entrance. Jack Kerouac went there for dinner in his book On The Road.

 

Broadway Street, 1957 - photo by Charles Cushman on hemmings.com

Broadway Street, 1957 – photo by Charles Cushman on hemmings.com

 

In 1958 Alfred’s was remodeled from its original look with dark wood walls and booths, similar to how Tadich Grill looks now, into a “continental” style with tufted leather (or vinyl) booths, white linen tablecloths, mirrored walls, and three chandeliers, which are exact replicas of the ones in the Vienna Opera House (as Alfred was a big opera fan). In 1973 Arturo Petri, a North Beach native by Italian parents, purchased Alfred’s and ran it with his son Al.

 

Blue Fox restaurant, San Francisco

Blue Fox restaurant, San Francisco

 

In 1997 Alfred’s decided to relocate due to losing the lease on their valet parking lot. They moved into the world-famous Blue Fox restaurant’s space. The Blue Fox opened in 1920 (in a different location) and closed in 1993. Alfred’s booths, bar top, and chandeliers were all moved from the restaurant on Broadway into the new location. In 2010, Al Petri’s son Marco bought into the business and Al retired. The new generation of the Petri family thankfully has kept Alfred’s pretty much the same. The menu changed a little, but all of Alfred’s steakhouse classics remain and the decor and atmosphere have not changed.

 

entrance - photo by Dean Curtis

entrance – photo by Dean Curtis

 

When you enter the restaurant through the grand doors you enter the foyer (be sure to check out the vintage menus on display) and up a couple of steps to the host stand. Continuing to your right you pass the refrigerated cases where the meat is dry-aging and into the bar and lounge. There is a cocktail menu these days with some fine choices, but I usually order a martini or Manhattan with a premium spirit (they have an excellent liquor selection). The cocktails are very generous, which usually isn’t my preference because they can get warm before you finish, but here they give you the shaker so you can medicate at your leisure, so I approve.

 

steak dry aging cases - photo by Dean Curtis

steak dry aging cases – photo by Dean Curtis

 

Alfred’s has two dining rooms: the main dining room with the original booths and chandeliers…

 

main dining room - photo by Dean Curtis

main dining room – photo by Dean Curtis

 

…and the side dining room. As you can see in my photos, the lighting is dim, just how Le Continental likes it.

 

side dining room - photo by Dean Curtis

side dining room – photo by Dean Curtis

 

Alfred’s serves beef that is from the upper one-third of the USDA Choice grade. There is a lot of variation in the Choice grade and the “High Choice” grade can be practically as good as USDA Prime when it comes to flavor and tenderness. The menu offers about seven cuts of steak (some in two sizes), including a bone-in New York, Porterhouse, Ribeye (with or without the bone), and USDA Prime New York. All the above steaks are corn-finished and dry-aged 28 days. They also offer a grass-fed, wet-aged filet mignon. They have other entrees, such as lamb, chicken, and lobster. Entrees come with one side so, although the steaks are not inexpensive, they are a good value. Homemade sauces are only $1.50 extra. Excellent sourdough bread comes with your meal.

 

Caesar salad - photo by Dean Curtis

Caesar salad – photo by Dean Curtis

 

On my recent visit I tried the $55 School Night Supper (Sun-Thur), which comes with a salad or soup, a choice of one of three of their regular steaks (bone-in New York, ribeye, and filet mignon), any side, any sauce, and any dessert. Doing the math, this is a good deal if you want (and will have room for) dessert (which is basically free). But without dessert it is slightly cheaper to order the items separately. I miss their early-bird special 3-course prix-fixe dinner, which was under $40. But even at $55 the meal was wonderful, with a tasty salad, fresh vegetables, a flavorful steak that was cooked perfectly (medium rare, which I find, frustratingly, can vary a lot from steakhouse to steakhouse), and a delicious dessert.

 

bone-in New York steak - photo by Dean Curtis

bone-in New York steak – photo by Dean Curtis

 

Alfred’s adds an 18% gratuity to every check and distributes it among staff in both the front and back of the house, which is clearly stated on the menu (so don’t give them a bad review on Yelp because you didn’t know, OK?). But if you have good service (like I’ve always had) you can always (and should) give a few percent more.

 

Alfred’s
659 Merchant St, San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 781-7058
Open for dinner daily 5:00pm – 9:00pm, lunch only on Thursday 11:30am – 2:00pm